JAKE Kean will fulfil a childhood dream when he walks out in front of the Pride Park faithful tomorrow afternoon but, after a heartbreaking rejection, is now bidding to play the part of the villain.
Rovers’ 21-year-old goalkeeper has made a surprise first team emergence this season at Ewood Park, leaving him to reflect on how far he has come over the past couple of years as he prepares for an FA Cup fourth round tie at Derby.
It was only three years ago when the Rams left Kean heartbroken with the news they would not be offering him a professional contract.
Having been at the club since the age of 11 and, with his friends and family all Derby fans, it left Kean momentarily fearing for his career.
Now, very much part of the furniture at Rovers and number one ahead of former England stopper Paul Robinson, Kean can’t help but look back with a good deal of satisfaction.
He said: “The last time I went to Derby I had signed a new contract and was on a high and this time I will be going back and I will be playing in good form.
“Going back to getting released, it was a very low point for me personally but coming here and signing a contract and doing as well as I have done, I have not forgotten about it, but it has given me the kick on I needed.
“It was all a blur. I got released on the Tuesday afternoon, was at Portsmouth on the Wednesday, did a week there, then got a phone call from Bobby Mimms and never left.
“There was a period of about six hours when I didn’t have a club to go to.
“Derby were brilliant though. A bloke called Bill Morley, education and welfare officer, he prepared me for the best and worst.
“I was never worried that something would not happen, it was just whether it would be academic or football.”
Kean’s family will all be in the Pride Park stands tomorrow but, if his mum has anything to do with it, they will be changing their usual Derby allegiance.
He will also come across a few old friends but everything – including wedding preparations – will be put on hold for 90 minutes.
He said: “Jeff Hendrick is a very close friend, Mark O’ Brien, Frank Fielding, Ross Atkins. There a few of them. The only one I have spoken to is Ross Atkins as I am the best man at his wedding, so other than that, I have not spoken football at all.
“I never got to play at Pride Park so to go back and walk out with a different team will feel weird, having spent so long there. but feeling part of this team I feel vindicated going back.
“My family and friends are all still Derby fans. My sisters go to school there, my brother works there. There is a big family connection. I don’t think my mum will let them cheer for anyone but Blackburn.”
At the start of pre-season, Kean had the likes of Robinson and Mark Bunn to leap frog in the chase for the number one shirt and, now he has it, he determined to keep hold of the gloves.
He said: “I didn’t see this happening. When I came back for the summer, no-one was too sure really what to expect and how things have worked out have been perfect for myself.
“I am looking at it from a selfish point of view, I am not taking anything for granted though because it could change again and I could go back to being on the bench and not being involved.
“I have got the hunger. I want to stay in the team and keep playing. I don’t want to miss a game, I want to play until the end of the season and establish myself as first choice for next season.”